A village community has been left “devastated and sick at heart” after thieves desecrated a parish church stripping lead from its roof which could cost up to £100,000 to repair.
St Mary’s Church in Dalham, which dates back to the early 14th century and is Grade 1 listed, was targeted earlier this month when lead was ripped off the north and south aisles, half of the chancel and part of the vestry.
Such was the thieves’ haul that detectives investigating the theft believe three or four men must have been involved and a lorry used to take away tonnes of lead. Some of the lead was found rolled up and left on the roof after the theft was discovered.
Jane Green, secretary of the parochial church council said: “Everybody who hears about the theft is utterly appalled.
“This church has existed for hundreds of years and has never been desecrated to this extent. It is utterly heartbreakingf for all of us.”
Initial estimates have suggested that repairs to the roof could cost anything between £50,000 and £100,000.
As they plundered the lead, the thieves also damaged the church’s Portland stone castellations, or battlements, which will also need expert repair. Fifteen years ago, £65,000 was spent on repairs to the roof and more recently the church had to find £16,000 to replace stolen organ pipes.
Rector of Dalham, the Rev Canon Stephen Mitchell, said the organ had been fortunate to escape serious damage after the latest theft as it came before a weekend of heavy rain when water leaked through the stripped roof.
“The whole fabric of our church is in ruins because of the actions of these greedy vandals,” said Mrs Green. “The way forward for us is daunting but we can’t let this wonderful historic church fall into disrepair.”
Fundraising events are already being planned including a concert in September, and anyone with any information about the theft should call Suffolk Police on 101.